San Gimignano stands on a hill dominating the valley of the river Elsa. This hill was the location of a small Etruscan village during the Hellenistic period (200-300 BC) and San Gimignano began its life as a town in the 10th century, taking its name from the Bishop of Modena, St. Gimignano, who is said to have saved the village from the barbarian hordes. The town increased in wealth and developed greatly during the Middle Ages thanks to the " Via Francigena ", the trading and pilgrim route that passed through it. This prosperity led to patronisation of artists whose paintings and sculptures adorn the churches and monasteries of the town. In 1199, San Gimignano became a free municipality and fought against the Bishops of Volterra and the surrounding municipalities. As a result of internal power struggles, San Gimignano eventually divided into two factions, one headed by the Ardinghelli family ( Guelphs ) and the other by the Salvucci family ( Ghibellines ). On the 8th May 1300 Dante Alighieri came to San Gimignano as the Ambassador of the Guelph League in Tuscany. In 1348 San Gimignano's population was drastically reduced by the Black Death throwing the town into a serious crisis which eventually led to its submission to Florence in 1353. In the following centuries San Gimignano slowly overcame its decline and isolation and its beauty and cultural importance together with its agricultural heritage were recovered. The construction of the towers dates back to the 11th and 13th centuries. The architecture of the city was influenced by that of Pisa, Siena and Florence. There are 14th century paintings of the Sienese School to be seen and 15th century paintings of the Florentine School.